Schooling exercises must focus on how your horse moves and which aids he responds to, as well as helping him build strength and stamina that can assist him when working at medium and FEI levels.
Ride 10m circles around a track, gradually increasing or decreasing distance between them as your horse improves. When comfortable, try it in rising trot before ending with some walking on long rein.
An effective warm-up routine for your horse is critical to prevent injury, consisting of a long walk, slow trot and canter with an established pace and low heart rate. This will prepare his muscles, ligaments and tendons for what lies ahead during his training session – precise transitions and circles of various diameters should be achieved by the end of this phase as this will provide insight into his fitness level and impact on how effectively and balancedly they move.
To add more challenge to your warm-up session, try introducing an exercise that requires your horse to stretch into contact. Do it using your outside leg to push him into it while encouraging poll flexion and spine flexion without risk of falling on his forehand. As this exercise becomes more challenging over time, increase or decrease its circle size for maximum impact and difficulty.
Once your warm-up session is complete, the main body of your session should focus on developing contact with the horse. For optimal results this should be performed on a relaxed yet fit horse who responds to aids. One effective exercise to start is riding 20-meter circles containing objects like cones or mounting blocks in their centers and riding your horse towards it while bending his neck around your inside leg while using his outside leg as support for his back.
Start by encouraging flexion through his quarters and spine while engaging his hindquarters to help balance on a circle. Gradually introduce more complex transitions such as centerline exercises to encourage your horse to work in straighter lines, staying focused and engaged with you as much as possible.
Training sessions aim to challenge and encourage horses to respond to your aids, providing an important step toward developing correct contact between back and hind quarters as well as impulsion for jumping or fast work. The first step of training should be getting your horse on the bit while creating an ideal outline.
To do this, there are various exercises you can employ such as squares. Simply ride around your arena completing one square at a time while encouraging your horse’s head and shoulders to move in unison with how your hands turn. For added difficulty, add in figure eights as part of this routine exercise!
As part of your training phase, it’s essential to introduce different exercises and incorporate center line work – an effective way of developing rhythm and suppleness in horses.
Set some raised poles down one long side of your arena and ride a circle over them in trot, counting the strides between each pole to improve rhythm and suppleness, or try increasing difficulty by riding canter stride over them instead of trot stride.
As part of your training sessions, it is also beneficial to incorporate some lateral work. This can help your horse develop balance – something which is key in all forms of horse sport and should be introduced gradually over time. Even something as simple as walking on a long rein can do the trick – just remember to gradually introduce this work with increments until it becomes an established part of his routine.
Riders often become mired in routine during schooling sessions. This can be detrimental both to their own riding abilities as well as to the fitness and athleticism of their horses; riding on the same surface every day dulls nerve signals in legs and bodies that communicate movement and balance.
To keep your horse at peak performance, switch up its exercise regimen by switching the type of ground you ride him on. This will challenge his proprioception (his ability to sense leg position and movement), engaging more fully his muscles into what work he’s being asked to do.
Start working your horse on different arena surfaces such as sand or polo fields to not only improve his posture but also activate slow-twitch muscle fibers that support stabilization of his skeleton. This will not only strengthen but also develop slow-twitch fibers essential to supporting stable posture.
Additionally, changing up the type of exercises performed will also encourage greater accuracy, making your horse stronger, and increasing uphill momentum. If you typically engage in circle work, try switching it up by including squares – this will not only encourage greater accuracy from both you and your horse but will also strengthen them both further uphill.
Exercise: Place a series of raised poles along one long side of an arena and trot in circles over them with an active, even rhythm. This will teach your horse how to step under his body and use his haunches for flexion, while increasing intensity by increasing number and height of poles.
Setup a line of cones and ride in tight serpentines around them at walk to strengthen and increase suppleness in your horse while teaching him more responsiveness to aids from you. To add more difficulty and test accuracy and timing further, add transitions such as leg yielding when traveling between cones to add further challenges to this exercise.